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HIST 442: We’ve Been Talkin’ ‘Bout Jackson Ever Since the Fire Went Out

25 February 2020

HIST 442: We’ve Been Talkin’ ‘Bout Jackson Ever Since the Fire Went Out

In his age, Andrew Jackson’s military career and administration left a weighty and widely interpreted mark on the American mind. During the immense changes of the time, Jackson represented a strong and unbending force which rallied the common-man and the patriot and the businessman alike. Through his vast popularity during and beyond the War of 1812 and his controversial actions in office, Jackson symbolized an all-American, non-European, self-made and natural man who stood with his iron will for democracy—and a man plucked out and elevated as the instrument of Providence.

Markedly and to his great success, Jackson was the effective opposite of European refinement. His campaign against John Quincy Adams proved to be, as Ward puts it, a problem of the “simple West versus the effete East; …the United States versus Europe” (67). The two pitted together, with an ivy-league, allegedly elitist, Northeastern, wealthy Adams on the one hand and a rugged, ‘unlettered’ man of the South on the other, made for a clash of ideals, of two distinct cultures in America, the professor against the plowman, as Ward says (46). Jackson, of course, won largely because of his lack of refinement and his distance from all the classical learning of the East. However, it should be noted—and Watson does not—that Quincy Adams still won nearly half of the popular vote in the election of 1828; there was substantial support on Adams’ side for the traditional presidential ideal and substantial antagonism towards Jackson thereafter, as we can see in Ward’s account of the case of the decapitation of Jackson’s wooden figurehead (Watson 94; Ward 116-122). Watson points out that it was not a hot issue or a favorite candidate that got voters to the polls, but a scintillatingly close race in which one felt like his vote would really count, e.g., the case of 1828 (94). Moreover, Jackson represented a return to the Founding Fathers’ intentions, a conquering of corruption or our fall from grace—a grace which need not be learned or cultivated, but which is God-given. Ward asserts, “Underlying the rejection of education and training, which were personified in John Quincy Adams, was the assumption that, at best, training was unnecessary and, at worst, it corrupted reason, which is intrinsic and not acquired” (Ward 71). Served a bitter reminder of the taste of dependence and British control in the War of 1812, self-conscious and wary America called for a revival of mores.

Jackson was a man of intuition, and he didn’t wait for the government’s approval. Americans in the nineteenth century had a desire for “the law [to] conform to deeds rather than that deeds conform to the law” (Ward 77). He justified his means by his ends, and this philosophy promoted a “freedom of action” (Ward 77). This is evident in the Seminole scandal and Jackson’s execution of two British officers before any substantive approval from above, which, Ward points out, was an issue of both “the philosophy of American expansionism as well as international law” (Ward 58). One could stipulate that the people flailed so in search of a higher, intrinsic set of morals which every man possesses—confident and unapologetic morals embodied by Jackson—because the law was failing them so basically.

In this way, Jackson was a “self-made man” whose reputation preceded him. This success and this evidently dramatic opportunity for social mobility appealed to the common man. His individualism was shown in the victorious Battle of New Orleans and the various legends and tales that resulted. Much like the miasmic myth that followed Tennessee Congressman David Crockett, Jackson was told about. This is evident in Samuel Woodsworth’s poem, “The Hunters of Kentucky,” subsequently made a song which exalted Jackson-the-symbol: “But Jackson he was wide awake, and /wasn’t scared with trifles, /For well he knew what aim we take /with our Kentucky rifles;…” (qtd. in Ward 14). Such folkloric songs and tales paint Jackson as both a larger-than-life figure and a common man who well knows the American people and their hardships, which aided his push for democracy. Watson points to this understanding in the case of broadened enfranchisement under the Jackson administration:

“In a rapidly changing economic environment, it was hard for conservatives to convince others that one form of property was more influential than another in persuading an owner to defend free government…Reform did not supplant republicanism in American political thinking, but significantly shifted its emphasis toward majoritarian democracy” (Watson 50-51).

Despite this idea of Jackson as a folklorish mystical man who also understood the backwoods-grit of the common man, just like in the case of Davy Crockett the figure never really belonged to Jackson. As Ward points out, “[i]f ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ reflects a prevailing assumption about the positive force of nature in the universe, it only indirectly connects Andrew Jackson with that force” (       30). Arguably, Jackson happened to be the symbol for an age and a spirit which was riding the natural pendulum of things; the British were again on American soil, only about 40 years after the Revolutionary War, fighting for the resources and the land, and there was some uncannily threatening déjà vu at hand. The Americans needed to distinguish themselves finally from the British, and Andrew Jackson was as different from the British as anyone. In other words, the Jacksonian movement could have gone by any other name. All that mattered was to stand with a man as vividly different from the European tradition as possible (—but not a savage, by any means.)

On top of that need for a distinct all-American leader was the Panic of 1819 which put the people in a certain eponymously obvious state, and Jackson-the-symbol swept the newspapers with his victorious battle which had defeated the British. Although somewhat contradictory in light of his repertoire as the “self-made man,” it is not going too far to compare Jackson to a savior of sorts, a deliverer. The Jacksonians shared this sentiment: “in [the age of Jackson], the people of the United States were predisposed to find God’s special favor in nearly every passing event…The nation, expanding violently, needed confidence to carry on its gigantic task” (Ward 110). The idea of Jackson as a savior was partially the need for such confidence and partially some sort of hangover following the sweep of intense (albeit short-lived) nationalism in America; like the saccharine taste of spiritual medicine Jackson lingered after a disappointingly short Era of Good Feelings. This was the pillar of fire by night, and pillar of cloud in the day; God was believed to have chosen the American people and would see to it that they went on (Ward 111). Jackson was God’s strong, rugged instrument to carry out His Divine Justice (and His Divinely Profitable Topographical Schemes.)

Jackson was not a mute and hollow symbol, however. During his campaign and presidency, there developed the second party-system, enfranchisement of more men, and campaigns for Indian relocation, among other things. One could argue again that these could have and probably would have taken place under any other administration, but they are proof nonetheless of Jackson’s fusion of self-sufficiency and unbending will. Alongside the symbol of Jackson as the instrument of Providence was Jackson as the man of iron will on whom “adversity can make no impression” (qtd. in Ward 190). In a time of such turmoil, when profits were largely concentrated in the hands of few, during the rapid and turbulent Market Revolution, in pervasive desperation for real, true executive action on the behalf of the majority, “[t]hought was made subordinate to action” (Ward 210).

Such a broad set of shoes to fill, it seems. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if Jackson made a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ administrative or military decision, or if he won the Battle of New Orleans, or if he kicked out the Indians as long as he confidently did so and “’had no thought of failure’…because Jackson was a Hercules of action’” —the people needed this Andrew Jackson and so created him (Ward 212). This natural and divinely chosen and unbending idea of a man need not be true as long as these traits were ascribed to him, and thus it was feasible for America to go on, cutting itself finally from Europe and its traditions, believing in the individual, pushing West under God’s pointing finger.

Works Cited

Ward, John William. Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age. Oxford University Press, New York,

  1. pp. 14-212.

Henry Watson. Liberty and Power. Hill & Wang, New York, 1990. pp. 50-94.

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HIST 442: The Myriad Complications of an Indian Removal Procedure

Ella Corder

2 April 2020

HIST 442: The Myriad Complications of an Indian Removal Procedure

The Jacksonian era flowed with industrial progress and booming industry. This market revolution sent ripples across the country. One of the more notable ripples is the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a complex affair of racial tension on behalf of whites, the fortitude of ‘mixed-blood’ warriors, the fight and plight of the Indians, and the subsequent Trail of Tears. On the face of it, the Indian Removal was a matter of progress, security, and protection against savagery. Underneath, it was about the money which was waiting to be tilled from the rich, cotton-farming land of the South. Beneath the shield of whichever claim, the Indians were pushed off the cotton-padded South and over the Mississippi in one of the most convoluted tales in American history.

The decade of the 1830s was one of rapid change. People experienced “an abrupt and decisive commercial revolution in agriculture, rapid territorial expansion, the beginnings of industrialization and sustained urban growth, the democratization of politics—a generation of change that transformed Jefferson’s republic…into Jackson’s boisterous capitalist democracy” (Johnson 9). In such a time, there were more and more opportunities in the fertile, wide South. As more surplus crops were sold, subsistence-farming declined, and agriculture grew more commercial, vast, rich farmland became more valuable. Cotton was a popular crop in high demand internationally, and it grew especially well in the South; people followed the money. As the population grew, however, land began to run short.

About 125,000 Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians lived east of the Mississippi River in 1820 (LaFantasie, “Democracy and Race”). In the face of an influx of white settlement and pressure to assimilate and isolate, the Indians had cultivated a peaceful and flourishing life—a life lived atop of millions of acres of fertile farmland, ripe for cotton-growing. In other words, they were sitting on a pile of green cash, and, to the white people, this was a financial waste, an obstacle to be hurdled. As the population kept increasing, as whites began putting pressure on their respective governments, and as the financial opportunity had made itself evident, the southern states, led by Georgia, began to demand the federal government to revoke the Indians’ titles (LaFantasie, “Democracy”).

But, perhaps blinded by the dollar-bill signs in their eyes, or otherwise persuaded, whites did not attribute this push for removal simply to the vast financial gain that lay wait in the cottonfields. Instead, they invented a holy war against savagery, a collision of fronts between ignoble primacy and progress. The Indians were considered ignorant, brutish savages whose innate principles (or lack thereof) served as a pesticide for progress. Thus, rather simply and in an age-old fashion, the whites’ campaign against the indigenous tribes was cemented.

INTERPOLATION ON THE APPARENT ABSENCE OF PRESBYTERIANS

Something that I find curious, in light of all this, is the evident lack of sympathy on behalf of the mission churches and revivalists of the 1820s. During the Second Great Awakening, Christians across the country were lit up in an ecumenical renaissance, working towards their newly prioritized ideals of perfectionism, free will and discipline in the face of the cold, lonely, industrial, mass-manufacturing reality, according to Paul E. Johnson’s A Shopkeeper’s Millennium. These Christians, who “stressed the equality of all before God, regardless of wealth, social standing, or education” and who believed the millennium could “only take place when the true believers and all converts made the world a truly Christian place to live in” seem to be rather silent about this major development in the South, despite their fervent anti-Jacksonian beliefs (LaFantasie, “Revivalism and the Social Order”). I suppose we cannot expect them to be forward-thinking simply because they are holy, but even on the grounds of ‘converting the savages’ or some other agenda, one would think the Revived would step in.

Or maybe even the rapidly developing African Methodist Episcopal church organization which had made such leaps and strides in white-dominated arenas, who had taken up their own space in America, one might think would help the cause of the marginalized and attacked Indians. I suppose they, unlike the whites, had no political power and couldn’t have helped if they tried.

The absence of the whites remains suspicious.

END INTERPOLATION

The problem with the anti-Indian campaign was that the racial lines in the South were blurry at best; Indians dressed and acted like whites, whites married Indians, Indians married whites, and the Indians, Spanish, French, and Africans who had settled there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries left little room for any sort of monoracial culture. The Cherokee especially grew to live like whites; under Chief John Ross, the Cherokees were advised to assimilate as much as possible to the white man’s world to avoid discrimination and/or removal—they had houses and cotton plantations of their own, a written language, a newspaper, a written constitution, and, as they increasingly sold their own surplus crops, they stopped living communally as they once had (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). The Cherokee Nation in the South became sort of a city within a city, a Vatican, a microcosm within America that reflected the larger white world: the Cherokee’s disposition towards their black slaves became increasingly tense and harsh. In short, they adopted the white man’s way, a very individualist, capitalist culture—they began to play the game.

The Indian identity itself became complex in light of all the intermarriage and ‘mixed-blood’ offspring. William McIntosh, to name one ‘mixed-blood’, who had aligned himself with Jackson during the war of 1812, was a Creek chief whose portrait pictures him wearing “a ruffled shirt and cravat of a white gentlemen, while also wearing an Indian robe, sash, leggings, and moccasins” —his mother was Creek, his wife was Cherokee and his father was Scotch-Irish (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). Such mixing of not only blood but of culture belies the substantially acculturated and blended state of the South at the time. This makes an argument for Removal more complex; how to define an Indian? Where does the Indian blood stop and the white blood begin? Simply based on color—the “one-drop” rule of the early nineteenth century? It was already evident that ‘mixed-bloods’ functioned more easily in a white society, developing into wealthy plantation-owners: “Largely of mixed ancestry, slaveholders were wealthier, had investments in other enterprises such as gristmills, ferries, and way stations along the Natchez Trail, raised crops for markets, and were more likely to read English, and were the driving force behind acculturation” (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). Naturally, tension grew between the Indians, the whites, and this spectral group of everyone in-between.

Tension became somewhat infectious; as it grew between whites and Indians and between Indians and blacks, so it grew between factions of Indian tribes (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). This is evident in the case of McIntosh, who was murdered by another Creek faction after ceding land. Perhaps this internal deterioration, this conflict within the American Indian nation on top of all the external conflict, helped whites to divide and conquer. Perhaps they could have withstood all the pressure and the attacks had they not been so fractured over money—but, then, they would not be playing the game.

Or perhaps any resistance was futile when on top of the food chain sat President Andrew Jackson. Jackson had gained a reputation by this time, after forging his way through the Tennessee frontier, fighting and defeating Indians and opening up vast expanses of land; to America’s great face he added about a third of Tennessee, three-quarters of Florida, three-quarters of Alabama, a fifth of Georgia, a fifth of Mississippi, a tenth of Kentucky and a tenth of North Carolina (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). He was a defender of America, a warrior, a boisterous, rugged, self-made man who would not tolerate an Other standing in the way of progress and profit. And above all, a landowner, a landlover. Perhaps he pushed for Indian Removal simply in the interest of preserving his reputation amid all the pressure from his devotees underneath: “By attacking the Indians, Jackson impressed Americans with his powerful blows for white equality, states’ rights, and frontier values” (Watson 112).

Either way, Jackson’s disposition towards the Indians was clear. He never saw them as competent adults but as his “red children” who must be protected paternally and, most importantly, legislatively (Watson 112). Jackson began to push for Removal funds with support from his followers, and “the Jacksonians beat back all amendments and passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by a thin margin, less than three months after its introduction [sic]” (Watson 110). To crush any opposition from the strong-headed Cherokee, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia that the Cherokee Indians did not have standing to bring a suit against the State of Georgia (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). The deed was essentially done, and the golden fields of cotton were opened thus, officially solving the problem of the whites’ Infested Destiny. In an extremely convoluted proclamation, Jackson said about the Removal, “While the safety and comfort of our own citizens has been greatly promoted by their removal, the philanthropist will rejoice that the remnant of that ill-fated race has been at length placed beyond the reach of injury and oppression, and that the paternal care of the General Government will hereafter watch over them and protect them” (qtd. in Watson 111).

The execution of the Indian Removal Act and the orchestration of the Trail of Tears was certainly not a simple answer. But, lost in the complexity of it all, morale fell further and further, as “in the process, Indians unaccustomed to white law and notions of private property ownership fell victim to shameful frauds, as land-hungry schemers cheated countless tribal members out of their lands” (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). Chief John Ross was kidnapped and imprisoned, the treaty was deemed unnegotiable, and “[w]ithout effective political power, [the Indians] found themselves at the mercy of the pressure of the marketplace and the hardening racial attitudes of white Americans” (LaFantasie, “Democracy”). The long and short of it is, it was a dirty affair; the Removal was not a clean cut.

One may stop to wonder what sort of happenstance, what gathering of forces or karma or succession of dominos could result in passing such an act in fewer than three months and subsequently result in eighteen thousand captive Cherokees trudging through the cold at bayonet-point just eight short years later. Could it be that the only answer to those freezing red corpses is profit? A cash crop? Perhaps cotton blew in the southern breeze like tufts of Jackson’s white hair. One would like to believe that there was more to the land than money, more to the removal than money, that the Indian problem was too complex, that cities simply cannot exist within cities.

Works Cited

Johnson, Paul E. A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837. Hill and Wang, 2004, pp. 9-

LaFantasie, Glenn. “Democracy and Race,” Lecture No. 009. COVID-19-era March 2020.

LaFantasie, Glenn. “Revivalism and the Social Order,” Lecture No. 014. COVID-19-era March 2020.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America, revised ed. Hill and Wang, 2006, pp. 110-112.